Indiana Jones goes out on a murky note with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which features an 80-year-old Harrison Ford as the titular character, Steven Spielberg not directing for the first time in the series, and an irritating sidekick in Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
James Mangold (Logan) steps in to direct, and the film lacks that Spielbergian spark that propelled the franchise, even during its flawed moments. While Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the weakest of the films until Destiny, it still had ultra-fun parts; that film’s opening—an unjustly maligned sequence with Indiana seeking refuge from an atomic bomb in an old refrigerator—is better than anything in Destiny.
Speaking of opening sequences, Destiny features a de-aged Ford back in the time of World War II for its first 20 minutes. There are moments when this looks great, and others (when Indy is wearing a Nazi helmet and looks like an extra on Hogan’s Heroes) that don’t. They’ve come a long way with CGI, but Ford’s voice has aged plenty since the first Raiders. No matter how young and balanced the CGI looks, Ford’s older voice coming out of that de-aged face is really weird.
After the opening sequence, the story jumps to 1969, where astronauts are walking on the moon, and a soon-to-be retired, grumpy Indy is woken up by neighbors blasting the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Soon thereafter, Indy is visited by his goddaughter (a frustratingly cast Waller-Bridge), who is asking questions about an old artifact owned by her father (Toby Jones)—part of the Dial of Destiny, which is recovered in the film’s opening sequence.
From there, the adventure commences … but the action is dull. The opening sequence doesn’t blaze any trails with its speeding train fights, and neither does the meat of the film, which features silly horse chases and badly filmed underwater set pieces, all leading up to what can only be called a terrible finale. (Mangold and crew blow a great chance to do something cool with the finale, and instead settle for sentimental schmaltz.)
Raiders of the Lost Ark had Nazis and God. Temple of Doom had voodoo. Last Crusade had Nazis and God again (with a dose of Sean Connery). Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had Russians and aliens. Dial of Destiny has Nazis and … Archimedes? I mean, who other than the most glorious of Greek-lore nerds is going to get jazzed about a magical adventure involving Archimedes? I would’ve been more excited about Indiana Jones traveling through time to meet historic TV stars, like young Urkel. Or, better yet, young Fonzie!
Waller-Bridge is not fun, but she’s not totally to blame. Her character is written as if the many writers of this installment had no idea what to do with her. She’s all over the place on the moral spectrum, and she’s just sort of annoying. Mads Mikkelsen does admirable work as this chapter’s resident Nazi bad guy, and John Rhys-Davies makes a nice return as series-favorite Sallah.
Dial of Destiny winds up being the weakest of the Raiders films, and really, that’s not a surprise. Its lacks Spielberg; it took forever to get here (I think Harrison Ford’s right leg fell off during production); and Disney is screwing up all sorts of big stuff at the moment.
Ford is still impressive eight decades into his life, despite his leg falling off, and none of the film’s shortcomings are really his fault. If you are a Raiders fan, you will watch this no matter what I say, and seeing Ford in the fedora is always worth the price of admission. I just wish he could’ve gone out on a stronger note. (Also, kudos to Ford for the great year he is having, even though this one isn’t quite up to snuff. His work on TV’s Shrinking and 1923 constitutes some of the finest acting of his career.)
One final note: This could possibly be the last score from the great John Williams. That would be another reason to see the film, despite my misgivings.